Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

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It’s always fun to escape real life in the pages of a book, and I find it somehow more satisfying to read a book about a sweltering summer heat wave when I’m living through a snow-filled winter storm.  Add that to the fact that all of Sara Zarr’s books are pretty darn amazing, and you have a fantastic reason to read this book right now!

Sam is having a really rough summer.  Not only is her mom in rehab (after hiding her alcoholism for years), but her father seems more concerned with fixing the problems facing his church’s congregation than the problems facing his own family.  When one of Sam’s friends, Jody Shaw, goes missing, Sam’s life falls even apart even further… and she’s left feeling extremely guilty for even thinking about her own problems when she could be putting all of her time and energy into the search for Jody.  Despite Sam’s mounting depression, the story doesn’t drag.  And although Zarr addresses Sam’s crisis of faith, she provides some seriously amazing insights without being didactic or preachy.  This may very well be tied (with How to Save a Life) as my favorite Sara Zarr story!

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Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Memoirs of a teenage amnesiac

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I remember seeing this cover, reading the title, and thinking, “That looks interesting!”  I was especially curious about the story behind the old-fashioned typewriter keys on the cover.  Yet, somehow, SEVEN years went by before I actually took the time to listen to it.  How in the world did that happen?!?  (Especially considering that I listened to, and thoroughly enjoyed, her book Elsewhere!)  I guess this is a case of “better late than never.”  I’ve always been curious about what it would be like to have amnesia and, though this wasn’t a true story, it helped me to realize just how grateful I am for my fully intact memories.  It’s terrifying to consider the sudden loss of years worth of my life and  even forgetting the people I love.

Imagine waking up in an ambulance and not knowing how you got there or who you are with — especially after hearing him tell the EMTs that he’s your boyfriend.  Naomi “lost” about four years after her head injury and was forced to re-learn a lot of facts about her life, many of which were distressing.  Being a teenager is hard enough, and Naomi had to to try to piece together several years worth of memories and re-discover who she was while simultaneously trying to move forward with her life. I can’t imagine trying to navigate the social structure of a high school without any memories/background information about my so-called friends and boyfriend.  Definitely not an enviable position!  And although I was sometimes frustrated with the way Naomi handled things, I appreciated her flaws because they made her feel more real.

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Empty by Suzanne Weyn

Empty

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If you’re looking to scare yourself into being more environmentally conscientious, this is a book you should probably read!  Not only does it provide an entirely plausible scenario for how individuals will be effected when oil starts to run out — including but not limited to gasoline shortages and electricity blackouts — but it also goes into more global ramifications, like the potential for war.

Although there were times where I felt that the dialogue was a bit unrealistic and clunky (most likely to educate readers), I don’t think it was overwhelmingly so.  Upon finishing this book, I had two major reactions: 1) I really wanted to share this book with everyone I knew to try and show them *why* they should care more about their energy consumption and its impact on the world/environment, and 2) I started thinking that stockpiling food in my basement sounded like a really good idea!  My husband has since “talked me down,” and I am doing well with just working to do what I can reasonably do to make a difference for myself and my family. :-)

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The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Naturals

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Though it’s been quite a while since I’ve watched TV on a regular basis, I have to admit that I used to be absolutely obsessed with true crime shows like Law & Order and Criminal Minds.  I could seriously binge-watch Criminal Intent.  So, I was thrilled to discover that this story was basically an extended episode of Criminal Intent with teenage trainees thrown in the mix!  This story also reminded me quite a bit of the Jasper Dent books because Cassie was so much like Jasper — she was unbelievably good at reading people AND that she was also hunting a killer.  The main difference, nevertheless, was that she was hunting the killer who murdered her mom, whereas Jasper was hunting a random killer as a way to prove (to society and himself) that he didn’t/wouldn’t take after his serial killer dad.

The basic premise of the “Naturals” program was that, although people can be trained in crime-solving methods, some people have natural gifts that are difficult, if not impossible, to replicate with training.  Some people are naturally good at reading other people’s emotions, for example, making them like human lie detectors.  Some people are naturally good at combing through and manipulating data, which aids in detecting fraudulent data and figuring out the statistical probability of certain outcomes.  Others, like Cassie, are so good at reading people (based on their behavior, clothes, actions, etc.) that they can often figure out motives for past actions and/or predict future behavior, making them natural profilers.  By finding teenage “naturals” and training them in a special program, the FBI hopes to create an elite class of detectives.  Definitely a cool concept.  (I’m looking forward to reading the second book in this series when my TBR list gets a little more manageable!)

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Croak by Gina Damico

Croak

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Lex had always been a reasonably good kid, but she suddenly started to get in trouble all the time.  And not just the cutting class and hanging out with the wrong people kind of trouble, but the knocking people’s teeth out for no apparent reason kind of trouble.  When her parents reached their breaking point, Lex’s Uncle Mort offered to take her for the summer.  He said that Lex would help him with work on his farm, but he wasn’t exactly telling the truth.  In reality, Uncle Mort was planning to train Lex to be a Grim.  As in “grim reaper.”  For real!  Though there were a few unsettling descriptions of death scenes, I thought this book was pretty hilarious overall.  Plenty of snark and immature humor to feed my inner 16-year-old!

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The F- It List by Julie Halpern

The F-it List

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I read this book in early fall, but I felt like it would make a good January post.  You know, with people making New Year’s resolutions about living their best lives and all?  After almost losing my father in September, this book really resonated with me.  I know it sounds super cliché, but both my real life experience and this book reminded me of just how short life can be — and how often we waste our time and energy on things that don’t even truly matter.  Sometimes, you just have to say “F- IT!”

After Alex’s father died, she had a major falling out with her best friend, Becca.  The formerly inseparable friends were estranged for the entire summer, but Alex decided she was ready to forgive Becca at the start of the new school year.  The only problem?  Becca had recently been diagnosed with cancer, and their non-communication meant that Alex didn’t even know.  As they began to heal their broken friendship, the girls decided to make the best of the (potentially short) time Becca had left by working together to complete the wish list of sorts Becca had started compiling as a tween.  They don’t like the term “bucket list,” though, and decide to call it a “F- It” list instead.  Infused throughout with humor and romance, this is SO much more than a sob story.

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Reunion by Hannah Pittard

Reunion

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This is a new author to me.  If you enjoy reading about estranged and dysfunctional families, then I think you would enjoy this one — I did. It’s a quick read and told through the narration of the main character, Kate Pulaski.

The first line of the book is, “On June 16, at roughly eight-thirty in the morning, I get the phone call that my father is dead,” which makes you want to keep reading.  At least I did.

Kate’s life is pretty well in shambles before she finds out about her father’s suicidal death.  Her siblings tell her she has to travel to Atlanta for the funeral, which she can neither afford nor wants to face.  The book covers the next four days of her coping with face-to-face encounters with her four stepmothers and many half-siblings.  As Kate haphazardly deals with her messed up life, she also comes to terms with her relationship with her father.  The book has sibling relationships, adultery, childhood issues, and so much more, so enjoy.

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